In Myanmar, slaughter, displacement and '21st-century apartheid'

Rohingya refugees walk to shore Sept. 5 in Teknaf, Bangladesh, with their belongings after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border through the Bay of Bengal. (CNS / Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain)

Things have been bad in Myanmar for centuries, with its mountains and jungles being fought over since 1287, when Mongols under Kublai Khan conquered the land then known as Pagan.

The BBC reports there were two wars and a brief battle with Britain in the 1800s, resulting in British colonization. Then came the Japanese invasion of World War II. The end of the war brought independence, but not peace; instead, there were interim governments and party splits. The Burmese military took over in 1962, creating one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

In 1975, ethnic tensions combined with rebellion against the military government to create regional minority insurgents. In 1982, the government declared that anyone not indigenous to Myanmar was an "associate citizen," according to the BBC, stripping them of rights.

Ethnic and religious tensions between Myanmar's minority groups and its Buddhist majority have continued ever since, culminating in what many are now calling ethnic cleansing, The Guardian reports.

Though the government signed truces with Shan and Karen ethnic groups in 2011 and 2012, respectively, according to the BBC timeline, violence between ethnic Rohingya Muslims and their Buddhist neighbors continued, displacing 140,000 Rohingya in 2012 alone, The Guardian says.

Those who stayed were subjected to a list of horrors compiled by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Rohingya refugees wait Sept. 7 for a boat to cross a canal after crossing the border through the Naf river in Teknaf, Bangladesh. (CNS / Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain)

How bad was it? The report, released in February, includes sections on extrajudicial and summary executions, death from random gunfire, death from shooting at close range, death from stabbing, death by burning, death from beatings, killings of children, enforced disappearance, and rape and other forms of sexual violence. Later sections include death threats, psychological torture, destruction of homes, and destruction of food and food sources.

The report only covers October 2016 to January 2017.

Last month, on Aug. 25, a Rohingya military group attacked 30 police stations. In response, The Guardian reports, the army went on a rampage.

On Aug. 30, according to The Guardian, the army swept through the village of Tula Toli, where they massacred Rohingya villagers, shooting adults and teens and throwing babies and toddlers into the river.

The slaughter — which took place across the state of Rakhine — has forced 270,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh, reports The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof. Even fleeing may not be enough: Kristof writes that Myanmar's soldiers are shooting at Rohingya as they cross the border.

Volunteers stop Rohingya refugee children as they jostle to receive food distributed by local organizations Sept. 9 in Kutupalong, Bangladesh. (CNS / Reuters / Danish Siddiqui)

And it appears that the once-oppressed have now joined the oppressors, Kristof writes:

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the widow who defied Myanmar's dictators, endured a total of 15 years of house arrest and led a campaign for democracy, was a hero of modern times. Yet today Daw Suu, as the effective leader of Myanmar, is chief apologist for this ethnic cleansing, as the country oppresses the darker-skinned Rohingya and denounces them as terrorists and illegal immigrants. ...

Hundreds are believed to have been killed, but Daw Suu has not criticized the slaughter. Rather, she blamed international aid groups and complained about 'a huge iceberg of misinformation' aiming to help 'the terrorists' — presumably meaning the Rohingya.

When a Rohingya woman bravely recounted how her husband had been shot dead and how she and three teenage girls had been gang-raped by soldiers, Daw Suu's Facebook page mocked the claims as 'fake rape.' "

Kristof says that in two visits to Myanmar in recent years, he saw Rohingya confined either to remote villages or concentration camps. Medical care is denied, and Rohingya children cannot attend public schools.

"It's a 21st-century apartheid," he wrote.

The ultimate irony? Daw Suu in 1991 won the Nobel Peace Price for her commitment to peaceful change. Now, many are wondering if there is a way to take it back.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]